It’s a national holiday in Philadelphia, so everything is closed in the City of Brotherly Love today.
Okay, that really may be because of the pandemic, but if you’ll permit us a few moments of levity in these otherwise serious times, it really is National Cheesesteak Day. So celebrate with your favorite order, be it a “provolone pepper with” or a “Whiz without”. (What’s that mean? We’ll get to it in a second.)
In Philly, the celebration of a fantastic sandwich only sparks more debates — who makes the best one, and where did it originate?
In the heart of the cheesesteak district — an area of South Philadelphia that also includes the Italian Market, famous for the running scene in the first “Rocky” movie — the intersection of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue is sacred ground as two of the industry’s originators, Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks, face each other.
Pat’s was founded by Pat Olivieri in 1930 and gets wider credit for the innovation. The story goes that he had a modest hot-dog stand at the base of the Italian Market, and one day he decided to have something quite different for lunch, so he sent for some chopped meat from the butcher shop. He cooked the meat on his hot dog grill, placed the meat onto an Italian roll, and dressed it with some onions. Just as he went to take a bite, a cab driver who ate a hot dog everyday asked what he had there. Pat said that it was his lunch. The cabbie insisted that Pat make him one.
“Hey…..forget ’bout those hot dogs, you should sell these.” The steak sandwich was born. As the years passed, both employees and customers alike demanded change and cheese was added.
Other Philadelphia landmarks for the sandwich soon surfaced — Jim’s, Dalessandro’s, Dinic’s and Tony Luke’s. Ask a Philly native and they’ll give you their favorite, either from one of these or maybe a neighborhood hole-in-the-wall joint that has a “secret”. At some places it might be the roll; Amoroso rolls are a standard in the Delaware Valley.
No matter where you get it, the ordering lingo is much the same. Start with the cheese (American, provolone and Cheeze Whiz are the standards), then your “other” sides like peppers or mushrooms, then the onions question — “with” (yes) or “without”. The onions will be grilled unless you specify “raw”.
So go forth and find your favorite cheesesteak in Osceola County, call it in and pick it up. Ask a Philly native you know to pick one for you, and celebrate National Cheesesteak Day!